From left: Assemblymember Jose Medina, JPAC Board Chair Lynn Bunim, Assemblymembers Marc Berman, Richard Bloom, Jesse Gabriel, Adrin Nazarian, Marc Levine and JPAC Executive Director Julie Zeisler. Photo courtesy of JPAC

On Oct. 11, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed AB-1548, the California State Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides security grants of up to $200,000 for nonprofit organizations — including synagogues, schools, community centers and other sites — at high risk of hate-motivated attacks of violence. 

The Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC), together with officials, including California Assemblyman Jesse Gabriel, vice chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, and State Sen. Ben Allen, chair of the Jewish Caucus, advocated for the passage of the bill and also made sure it was a priority for the governor. 

“It is because of [the shooting at Chabad of] Poway that Gov. Newsom got behind it and pledged this money,” JPAC Executive Director Julie Zeisler told the Journal.

But, Zeisler added, this was just one example of the largely unknown work JPAC has done at the Capitol. “We are the largest single-state association of Jewish organizations in the nation, and we advocate on behalf of our member organizations in Sacramento,” she said.

The organization’s legislative priorities are determined in part by its 20 board members, which include The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles (JFGLA), the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Jewish Federation of Greater Long Beach and West Orange County, Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, Jewish Community Relations Council, the Anti-Defamation League, Hadassah and Bet Tzedek.

During negotiations surrounding California’s 2019-20 state budget, JPAC successfully lobbied for money for Jewish causes, including more than $23 million toward the rebuilding of Jewish summer camps destroyed in the 2018 California wildfires and $6 million for the Los Angeles Museum of Holocaust.

“Even though it’s the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, much of the things we are advocating for are benefiting the broader community.” — Julie Zeisler 

JPAC’s 2019 agenda also includes helping the elderly age with dignity, supporting poverty-stricken families, and addressing hate crimes through legislation.

The organization has pushed for other hate crime bills, including AB-300, which will improve accuracy in the reporting of hate crimes by requiring law enforcement to record whether each case is a suspected hate crime, and AB-1052, which requires peace officers to undergo hate crimes training.

JPAC also recently pushed back against a proposed ethnic studies curriculum in California public schools favoring the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel and omitting anti-Semitism in discussing oppression of minority groups. 

On July 23, JPAC sent a letter to the Instructional Quality Commission (ICQ) at the California Department of Education, calling the curriculum “disunifying, exclusionary, and, at times, even delegitimizing.”  

“We’ve been making it clear the community supports the instruction of ethnic studies — that’s not what the issue is,” Zeisler said. “It’s more about the problematic things included in the curriculum.”

A key JPAC program is its annual Advocacy Day in Sacramento, which gives members an opportunity to take part in civic engagement. The 2019 Advocacy Day, held in May, honored Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Marin County), chairman emeritus of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, with the JPAC Legislator of the Year award.

JPAC’s 2020 Advocacy Day is scheduled for April 27-28 and will again connect civic-minded participants with members of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, which is made up of 16 Jewish state senators, assemblymembers and their allies. There also will be panel discussions, lobbying training, and a Legislator of the Year award reception.

“[For] a lot of people not familiar with how the state works and how the state legislature works, this event is really hands-on with understanding how to advocate,” Zeisler said.

Participants in the advocacy day training include those from the JFGLA’s New Leaders Project (NLP). “For many of the NLP participants, this is their first opportunity for direct political engagement,” Valley Beth Shalom Rabbi Noah Farkas, the NLP rabbinic facilitator, told the Journal. 

While many of those who turn out for the JPAC advocacy days identify as Democrats, Zeisler said, “California is definitely more blue and maybe that is drawing more people in who want to hear from those speakers, but we are bipartisan and we aim to be neutral.” 

She added that while JPAC has a focus on Jewish issues, it is also works on more universal concerns, including poverty, aging and fighting discrimination.

“Our goal is to be the voice of the Jewish community in California,” Zeisler said. “We’ve been very successful in doing a lot not only for the Jewish community but for the community at large. I don’t think people realize this all the time, but even though it’s the
Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California, much of the things we are advocating for are benefiting the broader community.”